Feral or stray?

We often get asked the difference between a feral and a stray.

Here is a handy guide.

A stray cat is one that has been raised with contact and socialisation but who has become homeless due to getting lost, running away or being abandoned far enough from their home they can’t get back. They are also referred to as “domesticated” or “socialised”.

A feral cat is one who did not receive any human contact in the first 8-10 weeks of their life. These kittens and cats are wild, very scared of people and highly unlikely ever to become tame. They are also referred to as “wild”.

If we do not get in a litter of kittens from a feral Mum before they are 8 weeks old, they are rarely even able to be homed. Between 8 and 12 weeks some kittens may show signs of being able to be socialised and we have some foster carers who specialise in socialising semi-feral kittens so they can be adopted into warm, loving, caring homes. And very rarely we will get a young cat in who is part of a feral litter with a feral Mum but for some reason adores people. But they are few and far between.

We have a Trap Neuter Release (TNR) programme for feral animals where we review the location of the colony and if it’s in a safe enough situation we will put the animals back after neutering to make sure they cannot breed more kittens. Every colony we monitor has someone who will keep their eye on the group to see when someone is ill or injured and in need of trapping and treatment, who will put down supplementary food and who will tell us when a new feral arrives or a stray arrives that needs rescuing or TNR.

Stray cats are usually very easy to identify when trapped in a feral colony or found on the street.  They can be friendly and purring from moment one, have a degree of trust with people or with a little bit of time in our vets will start to relax, make soft eyes and show they were raised with humans.  We will always rehome a stray, even from  a feral colony, as the feral life is tough and shorter than being in a loving human home.

Stray cats can “turn wild” by being scared, having been abused or just being so timid they may never trust a human again. But there are often signs they are not truly feral. If we trap one of these to neuter and release back into their colony, we work on the assumption we can bring them back around to trusting humans. A very, very small number of those we think are stray won’t ever trust again and we adopt them into a home where the cat will have a choice to live inside or outside.